Third annual conference provides workshops for supporting LGBT youth


Judy Shephard, left and Ellen Khan speak at a previous Time to Thrive conference. (Ferrer Productions)


JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

The Time to Thrive conference may be best known as the event where actress Ellen Page came out as a lesbian in 2014. But the conference, only in its third year, has also become a leading national gathering for educators and other professionals who work with LGBT youth.

Presented by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the National Education Association and the American Counseling Association, the three-day conference takes place Feb. 12-14 at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine. It focuses on the best practices, strategies and emerging trends for educators and others working with LGBT youth.

Ellen Kahn is director of the children, youth and families program at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. She said the idea for a conference came after examining results from a 2012 survey of 10,000 LGBT teenagers.

“We learned [that while] LGBT youth feel some support and others are claiming and owning their identities, they still face challenges. It’s the best and worst of times. LGBT youth are growing up in a better time and are more likely to have peer support, but they still face anti-LGBT sentiment,” Kahn said.


Ellen Page speaks at the 2014 Time to Thrive conference. (Ferrer Productions)

“We’re asking the question, what can we do to contribute to and create better outcomes for youth?”

Past conferences were held in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas. Kahn said she is excited that the Dallas-Fort Worth area is as a different from the previous locations as Portland was from Las Vegas.

“We’re really excited to be in Texas. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has many resources and opportunities, but it’s still a socially conservative climate,” Kahn said. “We hope [the conference] successful once again and we draw folks from all parts of Texas and elsewhere.”

First-time attendees have the opportunity to attend a preconference workshop on Friday, Feb. 12, lead by Resource Center’s program manager, Johnny Humphrey. The “LGBT 101” workshop introduces basic concepts, terminology and risk factors/behaviors for working with LGBT youth.

“They’ll answer the basic questions for people new to LGBT work,” Kahn said.

Friday’s opening plenary includes an awards ceremony and keynote speeches. Bob Harper, best known for his role on NBC’s hit show The Biggest Loser, Emmy Award-winning John Quiñones, anchor of ABC’s

What Would You Do,? and 16-year old YouTube star Brendan Jordan will speak.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is also among the keynote speakers. Castro was an ideal person to honor, Kahn said. Not only is he a notable Texan, but also a well-known LGBT advocate.

“As San Antonio mayor he was passionate about ending youth homelessness. He saw the urgency around LGBT youth homelessness. He’s continuing to keep the issue front and center. He’s also putting in place nondiscrimination ordinances at the department, making long and lasting change,” she added.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, attendees will learn from a panel of experts on closing the gap among LGBT youth followed by a full day of workshops. Attendees have the opportunity to follow certain workshop tracks, including HIV, gender expression and identity and intersectionality.

“The sessions will primarily focus on HIV prevention, safe schools and working with resistant families,” Kahn said. Some workshops also offer continuing education credits to social workers and counselors thanks to partnerships with the National Education Association and American Counseling Association.

“We’re building up the program based on trends. We know there will be a learning curve for some people as well, which is why there is a broad range of workshops,” Kahn said.

Along with Resource Center’s Humphrey, other local LGBT advocates are also presenting this year. Rafael McDonnell, the center’s communications and advocacy manager, will teach attendees how to replicate Resource Center’s successes on the adoption of LGBT-inclusive policies in their communities.

Drs. Ximena Lopez and Meredith Chapman of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health will present on best practices on working with gender non-conforming and transgender youth, including when to refer them to mental health providers and understanding the benefits of intervention with puberty suppression and cross-sex hormone therapy.

Chapman is an associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center who works with transgender youth. An assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Lopez also is the medical director of the Gender, Education and Care Interdisciplinary Support (GENECIS) program.

The program provides mental health and endocrine care for gender non-conforming children and adolescents.

“People who work with young adults want to be effective and supportive. We hope we help move them in that direction,” Kahn said.


Time to Thrive takes place Friday, Feb. 12, 2016 to Sunday, Feb. 14 at Marriott’s Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine. To register visit For volunteer
opportunities visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2016.